25 September 2020

The Dwight Howard ‘Re-think'


Dwight Howard is talked of as a future NBA Hall of Famer. Now in his 17th year in the NBA, Howard was taken by the Orlando Magic as the first overall in the 2004 NBA draft. He has since played in six NBA teams (twice with the Los Angeles Lakers) and has no championship ring to show for his efforts. 

Today he’s with the Lakers again, returning this season after a rather acrimonious stint in 2012-13 marked by testy exchanges with Kobe Bryant. It’s a different story now. The coach is different. There are different leaders on the floor and crucially, one could argue, one of them is LeBron James. The dynamics are different. It would be hard to imagine Dwight Howard of 2012-13 Howard being silent about having to sit out an entire series, but that’s what happened against the Houston Rockets in the second round of the playoffs.

Those who called the shots, so to speak, felt that Howard didn’t have a role to play against the small-ball Rockets. So he was, in the words of one commentator, relegated to being ‘a socially distant cheerleader on the bench.’

Howard didn’t complain. He had returned to LA with a different mindset, ‘I will do what it takes for the team.’ He even proposed a non-guaranteed contract. His agent, Charles Briscoe put it in a rather back-handed way:

‘It was about Dwight proving to himself he was ready for this role; he’d lost pretty much everything. He felt like if he wanted to get anything back, he needed to start from the bottom and work his way back.’

LeBron and Anthony Davis would not paint Howard that way, one feels. Howard knew who led the team. He trusted LeBron’s judgment and AD’s too, even though the latter superstar was very much younger.

He sat it out. He cheered. No grumpy looks, not muttering or disenchanted tweets. The Lakers beat the Rockets 4-1. The job got done.

Next, the Denver Nuggets. Different team, different strategies, different lineups. Howard got the call. The Lakers felt they needed him to defend Nikola Jokic. They expected a physical presence and hopefully that he would draw some fouls on Jokic.

He put on a dazzling show, battling with Jokic, driving hard, blocking shots, creating steals and even drawing as many as four fouls in his first seven minutes.
Howard’s only NBA finals appearance was with the Orlando Magic in 2009 in a losing cause (1-4) against the Lakers. This time he has a legitimate shot at a championship ring. Here are his thoughts:

‘I had a chance to get there once and always promised myself if I had a chance to get back there, I'd give my teammates everything I got and lay it all out on the line.’
He got Jokic, Jamal Murray and Pail Misslap in foul trouble before halftime, each picking up three. And after the half ‘gave’ Jokic his fourth, effectively crippling the Nuggets. In 16 minutes on the court, he scored 13 points off 4-5 shooting, had 3 rebounds, 2 steams and 2 blocks. That’s presence. Presence not only ‘when it matters’ but ‘when called upon to be counted.’

He didn’t put up such numbers in Game 2. The Lakers were comfortably ahead most of the game until the Nuggets put together a run that saw several lead changes. The Nuggest were 103-102 ahead with 2.1 seconds left on the clock and it took a buzzer-beating 3 pointer from Anthony Davis to win it for the Lakers.

Maybe Howard is not the player he was, at least not in terms of consistency. He’s obviously thrilled with the 2-0 lead in the 7-game series.  The coach might bench him again. He may get reduced minutes. We don’t know.

One thing is certain. Dwight Howard will not whine. He might not deliver beyond expectations. He might not deliver as expected. However, whether or not he has another monster game (for minutes on the floor), rest assured he will give it his all on the floor or, if on the bench, will make sure all vibes emanating from his corner will be positive. 

Other articles in the series titled 'The Interception' [published in 'The Morning']

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